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Why does Madonna succeed when so many have failed?


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I went for a walk this morning and was listening to a live radio service on my phone. They had an in-depth interview with Madonna. She was promoting her 14th album, Madame X. It's been a few years since her last studio album.

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Anyway, the album is number one in 60 countries and this week it's number one in the U.S. Two of the songs already hit number one, extending her streak of having the most number ones. At this point she has had 157 number one songs on the Billboard charts. 

During the interview she talked about her early days in New York in the late 70s when she trained to be a dancer under Martha Graham. Her first single ("Everybody") charted in 1982. So she's been charting songs for 37 years and counting, and in the interview they said this was her 40th year in the music business. She's 60 years old.

This afternoon I looked at the videos for her latest singles, and one of them is very revolutionary (there's no other word for it). She's a master at high concept pop art. 

Anyway, I know she has her detractors, and I certainly haven't liked everything she's recorded. But it truly is amazing that she continues to be this relevant as we are about to go into another decade. Why is she so successful, when other actresses and singers in her age group have seen their careers go by the wayside...?

There's a formula she's perfected. But the music is still very good, and the videos are still tremendously influential. 

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35 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

she has had 157 number one songs on the Billboard charts

Okay, sorry, we've got to some kind of clarification of this figure! Wikipedia says "across all Billboard charts" (emphasis mine). Given the number of singles she's actually released in her career (which is fewer than 157), some of the songs must be counting more than once, i.e., if it hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, the dance chart and the adult contemporary chart, then they must be counting as three different songs.

I'm not saying your statement is inaccurate. I just wouldn't want people to read that and think she's had 157 different No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 chart, the most famous Billboard chart. 

I have some thoughts I'd like to contribute about the longevity of her career, but maybe tomorrow when my mind is a little fresher.

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17 minutes ago, sewhite2000 said:

Okay, sorry, we've got to some kind of clarification of this figure! Wikipedia says "across all Billboard charts" (emphasis mine). Given the number of singles she's actually released in her career (which is fewer than 157), some of the songs must be counting more than once, i.e., if it hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, the dance chart and the adult contemporary chart, then they must be counting as three different songs.

I'm not saying your statement is inaccurate. I just wouldn't want people to read that and think she's had 157 different No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 chart, the most famous Billboard chart. 

I have some thoughts I'd like to contribute about the longevity of her career, but maybe tomorrow when my mind is a little fresher.

I think it makes her total of 157 more impressive when you realize some songs were so popular they were hitting number one in several formats documented by the different Billboard charts. 

Her latest number one "Crave," which topped the chart this week, is the 48th number one she's had on the Billboard Dance Chart. In second place is George Strait who's had 44 number ones on the Billboard Country Chart.

On the wiki page for Madonna's career singles discography "Crave" is her 85th single. I think there are at least two more coming up from the Madame X album, because she's already made videos for them which she published on YouTube to generate interest in those songs.

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There are many reasons for her success. From the beginning she approached her career as a business, not for fame and attention. She did a lot of writing and producing, always having input on her material. She doesn't live in the past. She's always looking forward. Not afraid to try something new and/or different.

Biggest reason I see is that she never fell into that rut of relying on your most famous tunes and just sing those over and over. She stays on the cutting edge always up to date. That makes a real difference. Today, styles and ideas flash by so fast, by the time you hear about them, they are already passe.She finds a way to keep ahead of the trends.

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17 minutes ago, GGGGerald said:

There are many reasons for her success. From the beginning she approached her career as a business, not for fame and attention. She did a lot of writing and producing, always having input on her material. She doesn't live in the past. She's always looking forward. Not afraid to try something new and/or different.

Biggest reason I see is that she never fell into that rut of relying on your most famous tunes and just sing those over and over. She stays on the cutting edge always up to date. That makes a real difference. Today, styles and ideas flash by so fast, by the time you hear about them, they are already passe.She finds a way to keep ahead of the trends.

Great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I would also add she's good at letting other cultures influence her, and that finds its way into her music. She seems to collaborate with a lot of people who create music in different countries...this is another reason she is able to stay relevant in a global sense.

***

After watching the video with her and Maluma, I checked out some of Maluma's other videos. He did a song with Shakira this past year, and back in 2016 he had a big hit with Ricky Martin. But in those other videos, he seems rather subdued. In the Madonna video, he comes across a lot more energetic. Like she pulls a much better performance out of him than Shakira and Martin do. There is something about the way she engages with people that makes her videos fun and provocative.

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Well, Madonna is pop music royalty. He should up his game and be more enthusiastic. This also could help him popularity in the U.S. and other english speaking countries.

The world itself as well as the music world is becoming more global. And as usual, Madonna is on the cutting edge of that trend. Also helps to share the screen with younger artists in order to keep her relevant and no look like a typical 60 year old.

 

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11 minutes ago, GGGGerald said:

Well, Madonna is pop music royalty. He should up his game and be more enthusiastic. This also could help him popularity in the U.S. and other english speaking countries.

The world itself as well as the music world is becoming more global. And as usual, Madonna is on the cutting edge of that trend. Also helps to share the screen with younger artists in order to keep her relevant and no look like a typical 60 year old.

Yes, I think that's another reason for her longevity. She's not afraid to dabble in other musical genres, especially genres that appeal to a younger market-- like rap and Latin trap, which is a style of hip hop. And for those tunes she's working with a new generation of musicians. Maluma is 25. On the song "Crave" she is collaborating with Swae Lee, and he's 24. In a way it's like she's doing more duets now. But I think that's good, because it means she doesn't have to carry the music on her own so much and as a result, she's become a more collaborative artist.

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I always thought she was very talented. I loved many of her hit songs, "Like A Virgin", "Material Girl","Live To Tell" (featured in her then husband Sean Penn's movie "At Close Range"), "Papa Don't Preach" ( a great video with actor Danny Aiello), "True Blue". 

I enjoyed the movie "Dick Tracy" (1990) though I think she should stick to music rather than acting.

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After my posts with Gerald, I thought some more about Madonna's formula.

One thing I noticed, and it's not exactly unique to her, because I also observed this in the Ricky Martin-Maluma video I watched-- a lot of the music (and the videos especially) seem like partying as a business. They are putting on a party for the fans, and they are working very hard to convey the fun, glamour and sometimes the hedonism of a party lifestyle. Though I think most of this has a positive side to it, because they are also using the music to bring people together, to make society less divisive.

And in Madonna's case, to be fair, for every few uptempo dance party numbers, she turns out a power ballad or a socially conscious anthem. So she varies the formula a bit more than other musicians.

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Sex and controversy surely have to be part of the success formula. There were a number of years early in her career where she generated a "what will she do next?" excitement. I was watching live when she performed "Like a Virgin" at the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards in a wedding gown some weeks BEFORE the video was released. Pop stars simply didn't put out songs with lyrical content like that, and the way she danced! Co-host Bette Middler quipped, "Well, I guess this answers any questions we had about Madonna's virginity!", but the ball was rolling at that point. She didn't have any control over the subsequent Playboy photos, but I think they helped more than hurt (as a junior in high school, I stole that issue of Playboy from a local gas station, back when they just put it on the rack next to Sports Illustrated and not wrapped in plastic behind the counter, probably the highest-price item I ever pinched in my life). Then there was the Coke commercial where she danced among burning crosses in her underwear while singing "Like a Prayer" (unsure how that got greenlit. I think it only aired once, but that was enough). The "Justify My Love" video. The Truth or Dare documentary. The Sex book. She constantly kept people interested in what she was doing.

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Dark Ballet. I think this will be her next single, but don't quote me. She published the video on the 6th of June, and it already has more than 2.7 million views.

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It's revolutionary. I'm surprised she had not done a Joan of Arc style video before. What's really interesting in this one is that she turns the acting over to 33-year old trans artist Mykki Blanco. And Madonna herself only appears in a few quick shots as an onlooker (in costume).

This is a fantastic video, and I think the song is one of the more fascinating ones she's created:

 

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Talent, promotion, endurance and the right people (including her) to pick the music, movies, performances, etc.

Every time i watch A League of Their Own it is hard to think of Madonna in that and some of the songs she sang and her other "performances>"

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1 hour ago, TheCid said:

Talent, promotion, endurance and the right people (including her) to pick the music, movies, performances, etc.

Every time i watch A League of Their Own it is hard to think of Madonna in that and some of the songs she sang and her other "performances>"

The song This Used To Be My Playground, which she recorded for the LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN soundtrack, became a huge number one for her. It's a bit too slow for my liking, but audiences who saw the movie loved it. The video has a very nostalgic quality:

 

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I was a huge Madonna fan when she first started. being about the same age and also livng in NYC I was attracted to her catching the wave of post-Disco dance music.

But I just haven't been a huge fan of most of her music since True Blue.  That's when she peaked for me although there have been a few songs I like (from Who's That Girl) for example, over all, it's not the same.  I still have a framed poster of the True Blue album cover.

However, I do admire her endurance and stamina and inventiveness.

It's been touched upon, but her acting "career" certainly did not evolve the way she probably wished and some of the material she selected was just bad (Shanghai Surprise") and "Who's That Girl" was mostly about the music.

I thought she was great in "Desperately Seeking Susan", but she was basically playing herself.  "Evita" was fine, as was "A League of Her Own."

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Just now, RoyCronin said:

I was a huge Madonna fan when she first started. being about the same age and also livng in NYC I was attracted to her catching the wave of post-Disco dance music.

But I just haven't been a huge fan of most of her music since True Blue.  That's when she peaked for me although there have been a few songs I like (from Who's That Girl) for example, over all, it's not the same.  I still have a framed poster of the True Blue album cover.

However, I do admire her endurance and stamina and inventiveness.

It's been touched upon, but her acting "career" certainly did not evolve the way she probably wished and some of the material she selected was just bad (Shanghai Surprise") and "Who's That Girl" was mostly about the music.

I thought she was great in "Desperately Seeking Susan", but she was basically playing herself.  "Evita" was fine, as was "A League of Her Own."

In my (not so) humble opinion, EVITA's her best movie. 

But I think even the bad movies taught her to improve her on-camera technique. When we get to these later big-budget videos of hers, they seem epic in their own right, very cinematic-- especially something like Die Another Day, which tied in to one of the Bond films.

I think she ended up putting her acting experience to work, where it counted most, which was in promoting her music.

 

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In addition to the showmanship, she and/or her creative team have consistently picked some good songs. "Live To Tell" (I'm with Det. Jim on that one), "La Isla Bonita," and the new "Medellin," to name only three, are simply top-quality pop songs.

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14 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I think it makes her total of 157 more impressive when you realize some songs were so popular they were hitting number one in several formats documented by the different Billboard charts. 

Her latest number one "Crave," which topped the chart this week, is the 48th number one she's had on the Billboard Dance Chart. In second place is George Strait who's had 44 number ones on the Billboard Country Chart.

On the wiki page for Madonna's career singles discography "Crave" is her 85th single. I think there are at least two more coming up from the Madame X album, because she's already made videos for them which she published on YouTube to generate interest in those songs.

Having a no. one on the dance chart is different than a no. one in the hot 100. Very different in sales.

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16 minutes ago, Hibi said:

Having a no. one on the dance chart is different than a no. one in the hot 100. Very different in sales.

Her sales have been much stronger than other dance artists. In this case, Billboard makes a big deal of it because for years she's been the queen of the clubs...especially the gay clubs.

A lot of her tunes that have reached number one on the Billboard Dance Chart have slower versions that have been top ten hits on the Hot 100 and on the Adult Contemporary Chart. Not to mention her recent dance hits have been hitting number one on the Latin charts.

Then we have to factor in how these same tunes are reaching the top ten, sometimes number one, on charts in European and Asian countries. None of her songs just appear on the Dance chart, they typically crossover on to the other charts and this is why she has a cumulative total of 157 across all Billboard charts.

I'm surprised she hasn't ventured into the country music field like Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow did. She'd probably get a few more number ones that way, if she tried her hand at some country rock. Maybe that's the next album...?

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